2016 CSBBCS / CPA CJEP Best Article Award Winner: Dr. Brendan Johns

Citation

Johns, B. T., & Jones, M. N. (2015). Generating structure from experience: A retrieval-based model of sentence processing. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology/Revue canadienne de psychologie expérimentale, 69(3), 233-251. doi:10.1037/cep0000053

Abstract

Standard theories of language generally assume that some abstraction of linguistic input is necessary to create higher level representations of linguistic structures (e.g., a grammar). However, the importance of individual experiences with language has recently been emphasized by both usage-based theories (Tomasello, 2003) and grounded and situated theories (e.g., Zwaan & Madden, 2005). Following the usage-based approach, we present a formal exemplar model that stores instances of sentences across a natural language corpus, applying recent advances from models of semantic memory. In this model, an exemplar memory is used to generate expectations about the future structure of sentences, using a mechanism for prediction in language processing (Altmann & Mirković, 2009). The model successfully captures a broad range of behavioral effects-reduced relative clause processing (Reali & Christiansen, 2007), the role of contextual constraint (Rayner & Well, 1996), and event knowledge activation (Ferretti, Kutas, & McRae, 2007), among others. We further demonstrate how perceptual knowledge could be integrated into this exemplar-based framework, with the goal of grounding language processing in perception. Finally, we illustrate how an exemplar memory system could have been used in the cultural evolution of language. The model provides evidence that an impressive amount of language processing may be bottom-up in nature, built on the storage and retrieval of individual linguistic experiences.

Johns, B. T., & Jones, M. N. (2015). Generating structure from experience: A retrieval-based model of sentence processing. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 69, 233-251.